Summer Storm

Mount Dora High’s Hurricanes stay intense despite Florida heat

With their season kickoff still six weeks away, the Mount Dora High Hurricanes keep investing their sweat equity under new coach Chris Stephenson.

Training through the summer is done by all high schools across the country, but here in Florida it’s an extraordinary ordeal. Summer training is a Monday-Friday regimen lasting til noon.

02 IMG_8324On the morning we caught up with Coach Stephenson, it was cloudless and hot already at 9 a.m., another scorcher on the way. The Hurricane football team—numbering about 60 including the junior varsity player—started out in the weight room, working in teams at a dozen weight-lifting stations. Discipline among the players was admirable, with no trash-talking or swearing. Everyone seemed intent on hitting their marks.

After that, it was out to the playing field for conditioning, first running a variety of sprints, and then what Stephenson calls a “stadium run” —running up and down the aisle of the home stand, across the field on the track to the visitor side stand where they ran the same route, finishing by running around the track back to where they started. After repeating this four times, most players were sucking for air; but every one finished.

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“I sure wouldn’t want to try that,” Coach Stephenson said.

Stephenson replaced Donny Burchfield last March as Mount Dora High’s fourth coach in as many years. The 2015 team went 4-5.

Under Stephenson, the team began a new weight-training regimen adopted from the University of Florida, doing 10 sets of 10 reps at 70 percent of max instead of the traditional 3 sets of 10 reps.  The result is a faster, stronger, more injury-resistant team.

“I about killed them at first,” Stephenson says. “They weren’t used to that much. But now they are, so I will have to figure out a way to train them harder.”

04 IMG_8383Helping Coach Stephenson out that day with the team were defensive coordinator Bob Thomas, offensive coordinator Frank Scott and offensive line / strength & conditioning coach Jason Guido. Each exhorted the players to stay focused and intense.

“My goal for the whole team is this,” says Stephenson. ” It’s not about winning the district or state championship, it’s winning every play. If you do that, the rest will take care of itself.”

The same goes for training. “If a player completes their ten-set, ten-rep goal for a bench press, they have won that bench press.”

One of the early fruits of the team’s new training regimen was a 42-12 rout of 7A Edgewater in their spring game last May. (Mount Dora plays in the 4A league.)  Stephenson’s game plan had been to slow down Edgewater’s fast offense; that gave them the opportunity to sharpen their own attack, and they started scoring touchdowns—lots of them.

According to state rules, the team can’t begin running plays until August 1. Until then, the team is staying focused on training.

“We do all sorts of team-building while we train,” Stephenson says. “You make it fun.” One game he calls “Deal or No Deal.” There are 12 numbers, each representing a certain exercise, like 50 pushups or running a mile and “a stadium” (jogging up and down the aisles of one of the stands. One player has to decide whether to go along with the number Coach Stephenson is offering or select a different one, resulting in a different exercise. Since the entire team has to do the exercise, there’s a lot of cajoling and bargaining.

Sometimes they get the unexpected. “Yesterday one of the guys picked the nothing card,” Stephenson says. “So they all got to go home.”

Once they begin running plays in a few weeks, Stephenson’s philosophy will again come to bear on their work.  “If you’re an offensive lineman and you defeat the guy across from you at the snap, then you have won that play. And if everybody on the field accomplishes that, then you score every play.”

“I want our opponents to say, oh God, we have to play Mount Dora. They’re going to hit us harder than anyone else, they are in the best shape. People aren’t scared of Mount Dora, but they will be.”

“We may not be the most accomplished team in Lake County, but we will be the best-trained one.”

05 IMG_8422And with that, Coach Stephenson turned around to watch his players grinding out another lap in the daily stadium run.

David Cohea, Writer (david@mountdoracitizen.com)